by Pastor David Groendyk
As you read this chapter, you ought to find yourself filled with anger, pity, and sadness. The complete failure of the people around Jesus stands out to me. The people around the dinner table scold the woman for her gift (vv. 4–5), Peter and the disciples fall asleep three times after Jesus asks them to pray (v. 37), Judas and his crew sell out Jesus (vv. 10–11, 43–49), the disciples scatter when Jesus needs them most (vv. 50–52), the members of the council lie under oath in order to convict Jesus (vv. 53–64), they spit on Jesus’ face and hit him (v. 65), and Peter himself denies ever knowing Jesus (vv. 29, 31, 66–72). There is a lot of bad in this chapter, from institutional injustice to personal betrayal.
One of the bright spots is the woman who anoints Jesus’ head with precious oil (vv. 3–9). In the John 12:1–8 version of this story, we find out that this was Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus. The oil that she pours out on Jesus is super-valuable, costing about 300 denarii, or, as your Bible’s footnote might say, about 300 days’ worth of wages. Someone would have to work for nearly a full year to save up enough money to buy this bottle of oil! And it’s all used up in an instant. Yes, this expensive oil could have been sold and benefited the poor, but Jesus stands up for Mary. He calls it a “beautiful thing” that she did. That phrase could also be translated as a “good thing”. Jesus is not discouraging helping the poor here, but rather is emphasizing his own supreme worth and beauty. Mary—more than anyone else in this chapter—recognizes how beautiful Jesus is and what an unjust tragedy it will be to lose him shortly. What a model of worship and sacrifice is Mary! Each of us should be willing to give up our most treasured possessions, dreams, and loves for the sake of magnifying Jesus’ glory. Even in our service and well-doing, we cannot lose sight of the end goal of proclaiming the name of Jesus. What is it that often hinders us from giving up our own desires for the sake of magnifying Jesus?
Why is it that Mary chooses to anoint Jesus’ head rather than use the money for the poor? Because Jesus is the supremely worthy one. As Jesus himself reminds us four times in this chapter, he is the Son of Man (vv. 21, 41, 62). He is God’s own Son (v. 36). He deserves to be praised and worshiped for being the Almighty Power from heaven that he is (v. 62), even though he is looking utterly helpless and abandoned at this point. And even as Jesus is looking weaker and weaker, he still has the end game in mind. He reminds his disciples of the future kingdom of God when they will all feast together again (v. 25). He points the council of chief priests and scribes to the coming day of the Lord when they will see him in all his glory and power (v. 62). There is so much more than what meets the eye in all of these encounters. Do not forget, as dark as life may get, that your King is seated on the throne, ruling over all things, and already planning that great day of rescue for his beloved children.